Film: Avatar

This  fantastic-looking 3D sci-fi adventure combines extraordinary special effects with a quite old-fashioned story.

Set 145 years from now, the story centres around paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is sent to planet Pandora to work with American security forces and scientists who want to mine  precious mineral deposits they have discovered there. The project's bullet-headed head of security, Col Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), promises to get Jake's legs repaired in exchange for military intelligence.

Together with botanist Grace (Sigourney Weaver), Jake  also has the task of  'winning the hearts and minds' of the indigenous population - the blue-skinned Na'vi  who resemble a cross between giant humans and upright lemurs. They're feral and prone to hissing like cats, but also have a serene, deeply 'spiritual' side,  worshipping the spirits of their ancestors at a huge sacred tree and a goddess whose energy somehow links them all together.

Using cutting-edge technology, Jake  controls a genetically engineered Na'vi avatar with his own consciousness. Under the guidance of a princess named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), this surrogate joins the Na'vi clan who live in a village above the richest mineral deposit.

As Jake undergoes a number of initiations into Na'vi culture he falls in love with Neytiri and finds himself torn between her people and his own rapacious species.

The film has a clear ’green’ message and is also strong in its reminder of the destructive realities of colonial and imperialist attitudes - with echoes of Dances With Wolves, The Killing Fields and even the Mission. 

But Cameron's strongest storytelling tools are the special effects. With his legion of computer technicians and artists he has designed a breathtaking world, replete with fluorescent flowers, floating mountains, and fierce creatures resembling prehistoric rhinos, flying dragons,  panthers, dogs, horses and raptors. The  3D battle scenes are very  dark and violent - not for the faint-hearted or anyone suffering from vertigo.

Although I did enjoy the hugely imaginative spectacle, overall I found the film a little exhausting and quite long - it goes on for nearly three hours. My 16-year-old nephew has seen it twice  with his friends and plans to go again soon - so it clearly has an appeal for younger audiences.